Canadians don’t want to be forced into a false choice between the tea party and the occupy movement.
Naturally both the NDP and the Conservatives will continue to argue that the only choice is between them, and nothing else matters.
But Canadians know better than to think that mindless polarization class war rhetoric, and the politics of division are the best we can do.
The Liberal Party is a party of innovation, leadership and unity. The global economy provides us with opportunities, but it also creates more insecurity and a growing gap between those doing well and everyone else. In the absence of leadership, a re-invention of the social safety net, and a national government worthy of the name, people will lash out, provinces will seek more powers, and the country will be less than it can be.
As the Liberal Party enters the leadership phase of its renewal, I can report to you that the base of the Party is broadening, that our finances are in better shape, and that a reorganized Party will be in a much stronger position to fight the “permanent campaign” and the next election. That work can and must continue.
As the party elects a new leader next year, the policy and ideas that will drive our appeal to the Canadian public need to inform a healthy debate.
Let me try and frame some of the key questions that are troubling Canadians. The first is how to maintain our prosperity and ensure it is widely and deeply shared. Venture capital is weak. The social safety net is in tatters. From students to seniors, Canadians are more deeply debt and less secure about their future than ever before.
In health care, we need a bold plan to address the fact that access to necessary medication and drugs is far from assured for many Canadians. The medicare commitment we made as a country fifty years ago needs to be renewed.
Why are the rights of aboriginal Canadians still defined by an Indian Act that is a remnant of our colonial past ? Why not replace it with a declaration of partnership and opportunity ?
On immigration, why would we abandon the rule of law ? Why do we not ensure that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms informs our laws ? Why are we quietly creating more discrimination, two classes of immigrants, and replacing the simple principle that we should be recruiting and welcoming people from around the world to help us build a better country with a hodge podge of special permits, temporary immigrants and a retreat from our humanitarian principles ? Why would the Liberal Party not clearly state that we need more, not fewer, new Canadians, and that as we seek to encourage qualified workers to come here we also continue to embrace the principle of family reunification ?
Can we lead a reasoned dialogue in the country on drugs, addiction, mental health and the criminal justice system ? The criminalization of everything agenda of the Conservatives, with its blowhard rhetoric, its mindless adoption of strategies that have failed miserably wherever they’ve been tried have dominated the debate ? Can we find the determination to put a fact based, evidence based agenda in front of the Canadian people ?
In the absence of leadership, provinces bicker over energy development, and the NDP thinks that pitting one section of the country against the other is the best politics. We need sustainable energy development, and that includes oil and gas. We need to find ways to get product to market, and we need to do it in a way that respects the environment and aboriginal self government. But it requires leadership, and a commitment to unity.
The debate is not just about where to build a pipeline. It is about how to build a country.
Why not clear policies on pricing, emissions, and sustainable growth? Why not a reasoned discussion on up-grading, refining, and adding value ? Why not a debate about a pipeline west to east ? Why not a strategy that will clearly show Canadians how we all can benefit from sensible, balanced development ?
On the practice of politics and democracy itself, the last thing we need to import from the United States is the poisonous demonization and polarization that has taken over American political culture. Why not go beyond that by finding a way to ensure that every voice will be heard with respect, every vote will be counted, and a new way found to elect a fixed number of MP’s?
And in a new parliament why can we not insist on limiting the power of the Prime Minister, increasing the independence of MP’s and parliamentary committees, and recognising that the gong show called Question Period needs to be changed so that real questions produce real answers ?
Liberals need to push these and many other questions, with determination and integrity. The crisis of the world economy needs to be met with determination and imagination. Canada was at the forefront in the creation of the UN, the GATT, NATO, the International Criminal Court, the landmines treaty and the extension of international law to include the responsibility to protect. Where is that imagination and determination today ? The global architecture on peace and security is out of date, there is no international agreement on climate change, and the world financial system teeters from crisis to crisis. Where is Canadian diplomacy, and yes, leadership in finding consensus on these and other issues ? We don’t see it, and yet we must have it. Canadians deserve no less, and so does the rest of the world.
In short, there is much work to do, and no room for complacency. We need to push ahead with real determination.
Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.